Constance Van Hoven and Her Reading Team

In this lat­est post for our Rais­ing Star Read­ers col­umn, con­trib­u­tor Con­stance Van Hov­en shares the ways that books helped her recon­nect with her Read­ing Team now that they are able to be togeth­er in per­son once again:

Rare & Blue Finding Nature's TreasuresAfter 16 months apart from this duo, I was eager to read to them my new non­fic­tion pic­ture book, Rare and Blue: Find­ing Nature’s Trea­sures, fol­lowed by a chat about our favorite things in the book. Which I also planned would lead to me shar­ing my favorite species: a cerulean war­bler, which would then lead to shar­ing some won­der­ful bird-themed pic­ture books I brought along. That was the plan, anyway.

Priya and Nikhil’s par­ents read Rare and Blue to them months ago when it came out. Still, what a rare plea­sure as an author to read my book with my own grand­chil­dren on a sun­ny spring after­noon. Since the road to pic­ture book pub­li­ca­tion can be awful­ly long, you need to savor joy when you have the opportunity!

Priya and Grandma reading Rare and Blue

I asked Priya what species in the book was her favorite, and she quick­ly answered, “the slith­ery snake.” Alan Marks’s illus­tra­tion of the east­ern indi­go snake coiled across a full spread is impres­sive! We talked about these snakes and the fact that they are becom­ing rare because their habi­tat is dis­ap­pear­ing. And that some peo­ple take them from the wild to keep as pets.

Nikhil was hap­py count­ing the Karn­er blue but­ter­flies in the book, and I point­ed out the cerulean war­bler with his beau­ti­ful blue feath­ers. I explained that we prob­a­bly wouldn’t see a cerulean war­bler in Col­orado, but we might see a moun­tain blue­bird. Then, per my plan, it was time to talk about robins.

On pre­vi­ous vis­its, we enjoyed observ­ing a robin fam­i­ly nest­ing above a light fix­ture next door. From the front porch, we could see all the com­ings and goings and even expe­ri­ence a few aer­i­al acro­bat­ics as the birds swooped between porch­es. Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans … As fate would have it, no nest this year. And there were very few robins around; per­haps the females had not arrived yet.

There's a Giraffe in my Soup!
I am Not a Chair!

We read Robins!: How They Grow Up by Eileen Chris­telow, one of my all-time favorite bird-themed pic­ture books, any­way. Priya espe­cial­ly enjoyed the humor­ous and fac­tu­al run­ning com­men­tary of the two young robins in the book. She promised she would let me know if a new robin fam­i­ly moved in next door.

I was so car­ried away with books I want­ed to share, I for­got that we are a Read­ing Team. Thank good­ness, the team stepped up! The first book that Priya want­ed to show me was There’s a Giraffe in My Soup by Ross Burach. This cur­rent most-request­ed bed­time sto­ry is a zany riff on the old line “Wait­er, there’s a fly in my soup.” Which of course, Priya doesn’t know. She howls at the assort­ment of zoo ani­mals show­ing up in bowls of soup and the clever puns that go along with them. And she loves repeat­ing, “bon appétit.”

A sec­ond much loved book by the same author, also fea­tur­ing a giraffe, is I Am Not a Chair. Both kids have this one just about mem­o­rized. They are quick to call out any slip-ups in the read­ing of this fun­ny sto­ry about a frus­trat­ed giraffe who keeps being mis­tak­en for a chair and must final­ly stand up for him­self. Even Nikhil under­stood the twist at the end, when the giraffe mis­takes a tor­toise for a chair. “Tur­tle is angry,” he said seriously.

While Priya is all about read­ing sil­ly books, rid­ing her scoot­er, and doing art projects, Nikhil is the typ­i­cal tod­dler on the go, want­i­ng to do every­thing his big sis­ter does. Nikhil is also/still truck crazy. He made sure to tell us right away that Mon­day is the day the garbage truck comes.

Nikhil squealed with delight when he opened a wrapped pack­age I brought, first because the paper had but­ter­flies on it, but most­ly because it con­tained a copy of Go, Go, Trac­tors!. This book was giv­en to Nikhil as a gift from the author, Can­dice Ran­som. It’s part of a Step into Read­ing vehi­cle series with illus­tra­tions by Mike Yama­da. Nikhil devoured page after page depict­ing a broth­er and sis­ter doing all kinds of work at farms, con­struc­tion sites, even at the dump while rid­ing on col­or­ful trac­tors. Priya is begin­ning to sound out words; soon she will be able to read this book to her brother.

Nikhil reading Go, Go Tractors!

Now, back to birds — I wasn’t ready to give up on them. I had brought a plas­tic tub filled with pic­ture books about birds from my own col­lec­tion. I set the tub at one end of the kitchen and it didn’t take long for Priya to dive in. First, she found Sita Singh’s pic­ture book Birds of a Feath­er. I knew the stun­ning, fan­ci­ful illus­tra­tions of peafowl by illus­tra­tor Stephanie Fiz­er Cole­man would grab her attention.

Priya and Nikhil nes­tled close as I read about Mo, a rare white leucis­tic pea­cock who is in despair over his looks despite the encour­age­ment of his friends. The kids empathized with Mo; Nikhil sweet­ly repeat­ed the oth­er peacock’s com­ments: “You’re still a pea­cock. You’ll be fine.” And both cheered when Mo’s glow­ing white feath­ers saved the jun­gle celebration.

Priya and Grandma reading Birds of a Feather

Birds of a FeatherAt the end of Birds of a Feath­er, the author pro­vides infor­ma­tion on her child­hood in India where wild peafowl are com­mon. Her hap­py mem­o­ries of pea­cocks on roofs and in yards inspired the book.

Right away, Priya remind­ed me that Nanu and Nani, her oth­er set of grand­par­ents, grew up in India. She said she will ask them about pea­cocks the next time they talk. Priya also told me that she is going to vis­it India some­day, and she will be look­ing for peacocks.

BirdsThe oth­er book Priya espe­cial­ly liked was Birds by Carme Lem­nis­cates — which actu­al­ly has its own vibrant pea­cock. This book is a live­ly intro­duc­tion to the ways that birds inspire us. Priya lin­gered over the page that shows a young girl rid­ing on a fly­ing goose. “I’d like to do that,” she said.  “So would I,” I agreed.

The words at the end of Birds res­onat­ed with me in terms of my short time togeth­er with my read­ing team: “Birds are like thoughts. They come. Stay awhile. And then fly away. They fly where their hearts call them.” Too soon our vis­it was over; it was time for me to fly away …

Now, I’m start­ing to fill that tub with more books from my book­shelves to be ready for our next vis­it when­ev­er it hap­pens. And I’m look­ing for­ward to what­ev­er books my team might want to share. I am grate­ful that books, my choic­es and espe­cial­ly theirs, helped this Read­ing Team get reac­quaint­ed and reconnected.

Yes­ter­day when I spoke to Priya, I asked her if a robin had made a nest yet next door. “No, but I saw a cat walk by,” she replied. Her obser­va­tion­al skills are growing!

illustration from Birds
illus­tra­tion © Carme Lem­nis­cates, from Birds, Can­dlewick Stu­dio, 2019


Bookol­o­gy is always look­ing for new Read­ing Teams to help us cel­e­brate the joys of read­ing aloud togeth­er. Con­tact Lisa Bullard  for fur­ther infor­ma­tion if you’re inter­est­ed in participating.

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Karen Ritz
2 years ago

I loved the back and forth of this Grand “team” and will put a link in our next Grandy­camp newslet­ter for inspi­ra­tion in how it’s done! So many good bird books too! We did a post on bird love with kids — maybe some of the links with help oth­ers with shar­ing “Bird Love”. We’ve got a robin fam­i­ly under the deck with 6 eggs! We can view it from between the boards.‑1/for-the-birds-birding-and-building-bird-love-with-kids-and-grandkids-with-favorite-bird-books-of-course

Connie Van Hoven
Reply to  Karen Ritz
2 years ago

Thank you, Karen! I enjoy your newslet­ter with so many inter­est­ing and fun sug­ges­tions. “A new way of grand­moth­er­ing” – I’m all ears and all in! And I’m jeal­ous of your robin’s nest. We are wait­ing for tree swal­lows to move in to the house we made with gkids last year – one for their yard and one for ours. If it would only stop snowing!

candice ransom
2 years ago

I admire your stick-to-it-ive­ness to keep at the top­ic of birds with kids that are on scoot­ers or watch­ing for the garbage truck (glad Nikhil has his pri­or­i­ties). I’m look­ing out for Birds of a Feath­er and Birds for myself. Who isn’t fas­ci­nat­ed by peacocks?

Connie Van Hoven
2 years ago

Thank you, Can­dice! We also went to the Den­ver Zoo dur­ing our vis­it. I was anticipating/hoping to see the pea­cocks that we had seen there pre­vi­ous­ly. There used to be quite a few freely roam­ing the zoo grounds. As with the robins, I want­ed to make a con­nec­tion to the books I brought. But, sigh, the pea­cocks were moved to dif­fer­ent homes last year. Appar­ent­ly some vis­i­tors tried to grab feath­ers and there were sev­er­al inci­dents of pea­cocks get­ting agi­tat­ed. Can’t blame them! In Birds of a Feath­er, Sita Singh address­es the some­times aggres­sive behav­ior of pea­cocks, usu­al­ly as an act of self-defense.

Jackie Rust
Jackie Rust
2 years ago

A few tears came to my eyes know­ing you had to leave grand­chil­dren you so obvi­ous­ly love. What for­tu­nate grand­chil­dren they are. I enjoyed the pho­tos. I ordered, from the library, sev­er­al of the books you mentioned .

Connie Van Hoven
2 years ago

Thank you, Jack­ie. I am a for­tu­nate grand­ma. Enjoy those books!

2 years ago

Thanks, Con­stance, for includ­ing BIRDS OF A FEATHER in this won­der­ful list of bird books and shar­ing it with your love­ly grand­chil­dren! ❤️